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Surface-Mediated Solvent Decomposition in Li–Air Batteries: Impact of Peroxide and Superoxide Surface Terminations

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† ⊥ Department of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Physics, and Applied Physics Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, United States
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California 94550, United States
Cite this: J. Phys. Chem. C 2015, 119, 17, 9050–9060
Publication Date (Web):April 13, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

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    A viable Li/O2 battery will require the development of stable electrolytes that do not continuously decompose during cell operation. Recent experiments suggest that reactions occurring at the interface between the liquid electrolyte and the solid lithium peroxide (Li2O2) discharge phase are a major contributor to these instabilities. To clarify the mechanisms associated with these reactions, a variety of atomistic simulation techniques, classical Monte Carlo, van der Waals-augmented density functional theory, ab initio molecular dynamics, and various solvation models, are used to study the initial decomposition of the common electrolyte solvent, dimethoxyethane (DME), on surfaces of Li2O2. Comparisons are made between the two predominant Li2O2 surface charge states by calculating decomposition pathways on peroxide-terminated (O22–) and superoxide-terminated (O21–) facets. For both terminations, DME decomposition proceeds exothermically via a two-step process comprised of hydrogen abstraction (H-abstraction) followed by nucleophilic attack. In the first step, abstracted H dissociates a surface O2 dimer, and combines with a dissociated oxygen to form a hydroxide ion (OH). The remaining surface oxygen then attacks the DME, resulting in a DME fragment that is strongly bound to the Li2O2 surface. DME decomposition is predicted to be more exothermic on the peroxide facet; nevertheless, the rate of DME decomposition is faster on the superoxide termination. The impact of solvation (explicit vs implicit) and an applied electric field on the reaction energetics are investigated. Our calculations suggest that surface-mediated electrolyte decomposition should out-pace liquid-phase processes such as solvent auto-oxidation by dissolved O2.

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